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New Pterosaur Discovery Shows the Winged Reptiles Soared the Skies for 25 Million Years

Learn why the pterosaur fossils are difficult to find and why this discovery explains their evolution.

By Elizabeth Gamillo
Feb 6, 2024 2:30 PMFeb 7, 2024 2:48 PM
An artist representation of Ceoptera evansae
An artist representation of Ceoptera evansae. Credit: NHM & Witton 2021


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Paleontologists have unearthed a new species of pterosaur in a new study published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. Dubbed Ceoptera evansae, the species found on Scotland’s Isle of Skye shows that pterosaur clades may not have been restricted to one area of the world and were more diverse than previously thought.

Ceoptera helps to narrow down the timing of several major events in the evolution of flying reptiles," said Paul Barrett, study author and paleobiologist at the Natural History Museum, in a statement. "It shows that the advanced group of flying reptiles to which it belongs appeared earlier than we thought and quickly gained an almost worldwide distribution."

New Pterosaur Discovered in Scotland

Close-up of Ceoptera evansae's skeleton. Parts of the specimen's shoulder and wing can be seen. (Credit: Trustees of Natural History Museum)

The new pterosaur brings scientists closer to understanding early pterosaur evolution. They now suspect that pterosaurs flew in the skies for over 25 million years. During this time, pterosaurs would have existed from the Early Jurassic to the epoch’s end.

"Its appearance in the Middle Jurassic of the U.K. was a complete surprise, as most of its close relatives are from China," said Barrett.

With the fossils, researchers suspect that all pterosaur clades in the Jurassic evolved before the end of the Early Jurassic era. The winged reptiles would have lived beside avialans, modern birds’ early ancestors.

Read More: Massive Flying Pterosaurs Evolved With a Little Help From Mom and Dad

Why Are Pterosaur Fossils Rare?

Because pterosaur fossils are usually limited and incomplete, the ones found create a fragmented picture of early pterosaur evolution. The new fossil, however, while not fully complete, were of one individual. Parts of the pterosaur’s shoulders, legs, wings, and backbones were preserved in rock. Since the skeleton was encased in rock, only CT- scans could reveal parts of the ancient reptile.

3D models of the skeleton (Credit: Natural History Museum)

Pterosaur fossils have been difficult to find because they lived in areas where few fossils were preserved. Their thin, fragile, and hollow bones also do not preserve well. Researchers have to piece together information from various fossils when they find partial pterosaur skeletons. For this reason, the team decided to keep the fossil within the rock and use CT scans to image it. One of the oldest pterosaur fossils, Preondactylus buffarinii, dates back 220 million years. It was found in rock but broke into several pieces when experts tried to remove it from the stone. All that is left of the specimen are a few bone pieces and the imprint of the skeleton.

The word Ceopetera, derived from the Gaelic word Cheò, which means mist, and the Latin word -ptrera, which means wing, makes up the winged reptile’s new name.

Read More: 5 Of The Most Interesting Pterosaurs

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Read More: How Big Was Quetzalcoatlus and Other Giant Pterosaurs?

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